What could Joe Flacco and the New York Jets offense have done better against Miami?
Another week, another game in which New York Jets fans leave the three-hour experience somewhat satisfied with the product the Jets’ offense put on the field.
Despite a loss, the Jets managed to rack up 380 yards against Miami’s blitz-heavy defense, a number that the high-powered offenses of the Colts, Ravens, and Bills (twice) could not reach against the same Dolphins team earlier this year.
Props are due to offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur. Since the bye week, he has had his unit producing well no matter who plays at quarterback.
The Jets’ offensive improvement is happening for a variety of reasons, but the main factor is, in fact, the improved play at the quarterback position. Mike White, Josh Johnson, and Joe Flacco have all played well, executing the basics of the offense despite their limited ceilings.
Flacco, the most recent starter, played good football against Miami. He executed the schemed beaters for the Dolphins (Nick Bawden slant, Crowder touchdown, for example) and played with good poise.
The former Super Bowl champion led the Jets to relatively solid success on third downs, converting 50% of the offense’s attempts. It was a third-down performance well above league average and close to the top third-down offenses. For example, the best third-down team in the league is Kansas City with a conversion rate of 51.5%.
Still, it felt like this number was not enough for the Jets to win.
Despite the third-down success, the Jets only scored 17 points – which is far from sufficient in today’s game.
Two missed field goals plus a red zone turnover contributed to the low scoring, undoubtedly. But the game was ultimately decided by third downs the Jets offense failed to convert.
Against Miami, third down is more key than ever. It’s where the big play opportunities lie.
Since the Dolphins are aggressive on basically every snap, avoiding third down is very hard. Miami shows packed fronts to take the run game away (the Jets only ran the ball 18 times thanks to that, despite the yards-per-carry success) and force quarterbacks to take the underneath.
Then, on third down, Dolphins head coach Brian Flores can freely simulate pressure and force quarterbacks into mistakes.
To beat Flores’ defense, offenses must convert multiple third downs per drive. The Jets failed to do it often on Sunday. New York punted the ball four times and missed two field goals. The team only scored two touchdowns and finished with 17 points.
Flacco often had the answer against the Dolphins’ blitzes, but he and the offense lacked consistency on third downs. There were some plays in which he was inaccurate, others where receivers didn’t create the proper separation, and a few more where the offensive line didn’t hold up.
In this Sidearm Session, I’m going to examine the six key third downs the Jets didn’t convert.
At the end of the day, when an offense plays against a man-coverage defense, everything comes down to winning individual matchups. The Jets didn’t do it on most of the plays below.
Looking ahead to Texans: Another team gets hot before facing the Jets
Just like the Dolphins got hot after beating the Ravens on primetime before facing the Jets, the Texans heat up after beating the Titans in Week 11.
Houston is the prototypical veteran team: not a high-ceiling squad, but the players can execute what’s asked.
The Texans’ quarterback is the prime example of that. Take away his performance against the Dolphins, and Tyrod Taylor is having an average-to-good season (Houston is 2-2 in his starts). Against the Jets’ defense, I’m pretty sure Taylor will be able to find the easy completions underneath.
The Jets’ offense will face a defense that ranks at bottom of the league both in both yards (30th) and points (29th). If Robert Saleh and Co. were looking for a game in which they could “ease” Zach Wilson back in, this is the one.
Wilson, a rookie, has some pressure on his shoulders. He must continue the offense’s upward trajectory that commenced as soon as he got hurt.
It will be hard to place the blame on LaFleur if Wilson plays poorly. The heat, then, will be on the young quarterback.
Assuming he gets the nod to start in Houston (Saleh will announce his starter on Wednesday), the moment is here for Wilson, who must show improvement from his earlier games and instill hope into a starving-for-success fan base.
If Wilson plays well in December, Jets fans can go into 2022 knowing they have their franchise quarterback.
A very similar feeling from the end of 2018 is basically what most fans want. The results, though, have to be different this time – and they will be.
The road to Wilson’s fantastic career path restarts next Sunday, at Houston.